September 20, 2020

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How Tiny Creatures Manipulate
Our Behavior and Shape Society

by Kathleen McAuliffe.
2016 (268 pages) + 16 pages of plates)
[An Eamon Dolan book]

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note = Numbers in parentheses refer to pages


note = "Our obsession with cleanliness and our experience of disgust are both evolutionary tools for avoiding infection. They evolved differently for different populations. Political, social, and religious differences among societies may be caused, in part, by the different parasites that prey on us. These tiny organisms can only live inside another animal, and as McAuliffe reveals, they have many evolutionary motives for manipulating their host's behavior. Far more often than appreciated, these puppeteers orchestrate the interplay between predator and prey. With astonishing precision, parasites can coax rats to approach cats, spiders to transform the patterns of their webs, and fish to draw the attention of birds that then swoop down to feast on them."

note = "We humans are hardly immune to the profound influence of parasites. Organisms we pick up from our own pets are strongly suspected of changing our personality traits and contributing to recklessness, impulsivity — even suicide. Microbes in our gut affect our emotions and the very wiring of our brains. Germs that cause colds and flu may alter our behavior even before symptoms become apparent."

note = "Parasites influence our species on the cultural level too. As McAuliffe documents, a subconscious fear of contagion impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, from our sexual attractions and social circles to our morals and political views. Drawing on a huge body of research, she argues that our dread of contamination is an evolved defense against parasites — and a double-edged sword. The horror and revulsion we feel when we come in contact with people who appear diseased or dirty helped pave the way for civilization, but may also be the basis for major divisions in societies that persist to this day."


2) HITCHING A RIDE (25-41)

3) ZOMBIFIED (43-56)

4) HYPNOTIZED (57-82)


6) GUT FEELINGS (99-110)



PLATES of PHOTOS (16 pages)






NOTES (225-251)

INDEX (253-268)
    Behavioral modification
    Cat parasite
    Chemical signaling
    Cognitive function
    Crickets (hairworm parasite)
    Defensive behavior
    Digestive disorders
    Emotional state
    Energy, efficient use of
    Ethics, values, and morality
    Free will
    Gene expression
    Germfree mice
    Gut bacteria
    Healing instinct
    Hormone regulation
    Illness or weakness
    Law and legal implications
    Life cycle
    Mental illness
    Parasitic manipulation
    Predation, vulnerability
    Religious values
    Risk avoidance
    Scientific American (magazine)
    Sex hormones
    Sexual behavior
    Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
    Social habits
    Worry, prejudice and
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AUTHOR NOTES = Kathleen McAuliffe is a contributing editor to Discover magazine. Her work has appeared in over a dozen national magazines, including Discover, the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, and Smithsonian. From 1999 to 2006, she was also a health columnist for More. Her work has been published in Best American Science Writing, and has received several grants and awards, including a science writing fellowship from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. She has appeared numerous times on TV and radio, and was interviewed by To the Point, the nationally syndicated Osgood FIle, and other programs after her 2012 Atlantic feature How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy" became the second most widely read article in the magazine's history. McAuliffe lives in Miami with her husband --- a research physicist --- and her two children.

SUMMARY = The book is based on a wildly popular Atlantic article by Kathleen McAuliffe. It described an astonishing investigation into the world of parasites, and the myriad ways that parasitic microbes control how other creatures — including humans — think, feel, and act.

BOOK DESCRIPTION = In this mind-bending book, McAuliffe reveals the eons-old war between parasites and other creatures that is playing out in our very own bodies. And more surprising still, she uncovers the decisive role that parasites may have played in the rise and demise of entire civilizations.

Now we are discovering, how parasites are shockingly sophisticated and extraordinarily powerful. In fact, a plethora of parasites affect our behavior in ways we have barely begun to understand. Parasites are microbes that cannot thrive and reproduce without another organism as a host. This is both a journey into cutting-edge science and a revelatory examination of what it means to be human. It is in the tradition of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish.

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PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY REVIEW = Science journalist McAuliffe takes an "unabashedly parasite-centric view of the world" to suggest that perhaps microorganisms are actually the ones in control of human lives, with parasitic manipulation guiding human behavior and thoughts. Noting that correlation does not equal causation, McAuliffe reports on provocative studies that link contagious vectors-such as the feline-associated, behavior-changing Toxoplasma gondii, which was the subject of her virally popular article in the Atlantic — to mental illness and libido fluctuations, and others that link organisms thought of as symbionts, such as human gut bacteria, to obesity and personality. McAuliffe also presents some well-established yet still astonishing facts about neuroparasitology. The hairworm, for example, makes crickets behave erratically and head for water, leaving them easy prey, while the Ophiocordyceps fungus turns carpenter ants into "zombie ants." But by the book's end, she careens wildly toward biological determinism regarding a "behavioral immune system" that causes humans to shun the abnormal and unknown. She addresses studies linking visceral experiences of physical disgust with xenophobia and moral conservatism, and others that have connected living in an area prone to disease with developing a collectivist culture. McAuliffe presents her collected research — often from small, nearly anecdotal studies — less as fact than in a spirit of exploration. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, Zoë Pagnamenta Agency.

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It is not easy being a parasite. Sure, you get a free meal. But the life of a moocher still comes with plenty of stresses. You have to be able to adapt to the environment inside one, two, or, if you belong to a class of parasitic worms known as trematodes, three different hosts âe<-- âe The answer to that question is what set Janice Moore on her life's path. In 1971, she was a senior at Rice University in Houston sitting in an introductory course on parasitology taught by a titan in the field, Clark Read, a lanky man with a commanding presence and an odd style of lecturing. He would puff away on a cigarette and seemingly free-associate, drawing students into his passion with fascinating details about different species of parasites that he presented with no discernible regard for logic or order. But he was a gifted storyteller who could evoke the lives of parasites so richly that you could almost picture what it was like to be one. He also knew how to spin a good mystery, which was how he ensnared Moore.

She could not imagine how to get an ant into a sheep's mouth in spite of Read's admonishment to "think like a trematode!" In fact, no one could, because the solution the parasite lit upon is absurdly improbable: It invades a region of the ant's brain that controls its locomotion and mouthparts. During the day, the infected insect behaves no differently than any other ant. But at night, it does not return to its colony; instead, it climbs to the top of a blade of grass and clamps onto it with its mandibles. There, it dangles in the air, waiting for a grazing sheep to come by and eat it. If that doesn't happen by the next morning, however, it returns to its colony.

Why does it not just stay attached to the leaf? asked Read, scanning the classroom as if he expected his students to discern the trematode's logic. Because otherwise, he told his rapt audience, the ant will fry to death in the noonday sun âe<-- âe Read's tale stunned Moore. The trematode called to mind a comic-book arch villain who controls minds with a joystick, causing law-abiding citizens to rob banks and commit other crimes so the villain can take over the world. The report of the trematode's astonishing feat came from a German study done in the 1950s, but, thrilling Moore, Read had just learned of research being done on a different organism that was producing findings similar to the findings of the Germans.

The protagonist of this tale was a thorny-headed worm âe<-- âe

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[1] It's Just Me - MORE than just parasites = McAuliffe’s article on toxoplasmosis in the 2012 Atlantic “How Your Cat is Making You Crazy” is probably the reason for the word parasites in the title, but the subtitle, “How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society,” is a more accurate portrayal of the topic of this excellent book. For example, the human gut microbiota (think probiotics) are well covered in this book, but they are certainly not parasites.

McAuliffe does a great job of introducing the reader to the major advances in this field. We meet a number of the scientists involved and learn about their findings. What is well accepting, what is still being studied, and what is controversial are clearly presented as such. The book is well footnoted, so you can look the research up yourself online.

Here’s an overview of the chapters:

1 – The beginning of the study of parasites and microbs effecting the behavior of animals and humans.

2 – Malaria and other insect carried disease. Focusing on manipulations that get parasites where they need to go to survive.

3 – More manipulations, including caffeine in flower nectar to manipulate bees.

4 – Toxoplasma and humans. A look at what can happen when parasites get into the wrong host.

5 – Rabies; toxocara (roundworms), and other parasites that effect “our essential sense of self – our moods, appetites, behaviors, and reasoning abilities.”

6 – Gut microbiota. Manipulations that are beneficial, mostly.

7 – How gut microbiota effect our weight.

8 – Behavioral immunity – things animals and humans instinctively do to heal our wounds and protect us from parasites.

9 – How the emotion of disgust helps protect us from parasites and disease.

10 – The relationship between disgust and prejudice.

11 – The relationship between disgust, religion, and politics.

12 – “Maybe we’ve underestimated parasites’ political clout.Maybe they permeate our entire worldview. Maybe geopolitics should be taught from a parasite’s point of view.” Really. A look at how the prevalence of parasites and disease effects culture.

Some new and interesting research is presented here in a enjoyable (yes, really) manner. I would note that I have read several books and a number of research papers on gut microbiota, but McAuliffe still came up with very interesting research that I was unaware of. This book offers a lot to think about with far reaching impacts on our personal health and the state of the world.

[2] Sunny - Thank you, DISGUST!! = This book set me on the path to looking at the world in a different way: an unabashedly parasite-centric way. We are more microbe than humans! Some of our unconscious may be controlled by pathogens! Gut microbiome influences our brains, behaviors, and even personality!! Do you know how? Well... you can read it yourself.

Save for anthelmintic, how parasites affect you? Are you happy to have high standards of hygiene? What do you think about the stomach churning emotion, disgust: visceral vs moral disgust? How politicians harness disgust sensitivity? How about Hillary Clinton's extended bathroom break during a Democratic primary debate? Do you wonder about whether you have the larger anterior insula relative to total brain size? Do you want to get the answers? Read it yourself.

Remember the following tips:

(1) Eat vegetables that have been scrubbed throughly;

(2) Wear gloves while gardening;

(3) Cook meat well or, if you prefer it rare, freeze it first to kill the microbe's cysts T.gondii produces thick-walled cysts in the animal's muscle.

Ectoparasites and microscopic parasites may exist anywhere around you... and jeopardize you, your partner, and your offsprings.... So go get the book and read it yourself! Don't worry. I bet you will totally lose track of the time while reading. You will find yourself indulged in this a wee bit provocative topics. Well-written and very informative. I highly recommend this one to you.

[3] K. L Sadler - Fascinating read on what lives inside us...more than we care to think. = I thoroughly enjoyed this book. With that title I was fully prepared for a bit of grossness...but I found the book to be a lot less gross and more of something to ponder about. In teaching microbiology, physiology, and pathophys I often have to tell my students about what normal people would consider to be disgusting, but which I am intensely interested in. It helps when I put things up that are kind of intense about diseases and medical situations to let my students figure out whether they have the stomach for this kind of thing. This book is an incredible boon to my knowledge on the bugs that impact our lives. I keep telling my students we have thousands of bacteria in our gut, but I'm going to have to expand that number. McAuliffe does an incredible research and writing job on the why, and when, and how microbes invade us humans. What's really interesting is how many of these microbes find ways to live with us commensally...they do get something from us, but we also get something from them.

I was actually very disappointed when the book ended earlier than I thought it would. I could have used a lot more info on various bacteria. Really though some of professional reviewers practically scare a person into thinking this will be a 'horrifying' isn't. It's a very thought-provoking one.

[4] Summer Bourne - Title is misleading = I thought this was going to be a book about how microbes affect us but it is more about science studies and animals.

[5] K Lidington - A real eye-opener = A fascinating book. Initially quite gorey, it gradually settles down to draw together behaviors illustrated into a broader discussion on the effects of parasites of different kinds on various species, including humans. Pursuing concepts that would otherwise be quite far removed from most people's expectations and imaginings, but which seem entirely plausible when considered in context, the author considers cultural conflicts in the real world right up to those still being contested in the present day.

This is an engrossing book, a well written page-turner — in fact impossible to put down! It introduces a whole new aspect to so many issues that can so easily get stuck in sterile arguments.

[6] The_price_of_bottled_water - Really interesting = Excellent book. I've been interested in this topic for many years, and this book brings a lot of different research together in one place. Great introduction. But develops some really interesting themes. I recommended it to a friend who is doing a phD in cross species virus transmission, and she'd heard of it, and said it was well regarded in her field, even though it's aimed at people who are not experts.

Reminds me a bit of "The Wisdom of Whores" by Liz Pissani, which is also excellent.

[7] Dr. R. H. Webber - On parasites and there effects = This is a good book on the subject of the interaction of parasites and their hosts, written by a non-specialist in the field. As such the book is well written gaining much of its information from interviews of experts in the field. I liked the early part but could not go along with the latter chapters of how much they had affected our thoughts and emotions.

[8] Helen Marshall - Fascinating if a bit thought provoking = Opened my eyes to what is within our bodies as well as without. A very enjoyable read. Made me question the concept of free will.


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Kathleen McCauliffe


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